Of Aardvarks and Men…and a Triumph Choppertoblogo

by Shawn Downey

Hey Shawn,” calls an acquaintance. “I read your article in the Minnesota Motorcycle Monthly.”

“And?” I ask.

“And I thought you sucked. You should write about something cool. You should write about me.”

“That’s not your first beer, is it?”

“No, and it won’t be my last. But seriously, you should write about me.”

“You do understand that the column is about classic motorcycles,” I said.

“And I’m not a classic?”

“Oh, you are a classic, all right, but not a classic motorcycle.”

“You should write about me.”

“You said that already. Are you riding tonight? Maybe we should call you a cab.”

“Okay, I’m a cab. Ha Ha Ha Ha.”

This situation takes place on a regular basis. As soon as someone figures out who I am, they read my column and offer suggestions for future subjects. What’s surprising is that they all suggest the same subject–themselves. What I find so amusing about these interludes is that I actually do derive the majority of my columns from those riders around me. For example, witness the chain of events involving three friends of mine who experienced the dastardly adventure of titling an untitled motorcycle. For purposes of accountability, I will refer to them as Tommy, Johnny, and Kevin.

Tommy and Kevin shared a great many interests including, but not limited to: motorcycles, beer, cheese, rent control, and genetic engineering. When Tommy and Kevin decided to “divorce” (something about a blue towel and a Packer’s helmet) Tommy gave Kevin his rusting purple 1968 Triumph chopper to pay for his part of the Orkin Pest Control bill. Kevin accepted the motorcycle on a Bill of Sale, as he had been lusting for the bike ever since Tommy parked it under a tree 18 months before.

During Kevin’s maiden voyage, he discovered the difficulty in maneuvering a clapped out chopper with 24″ over-tubes and promptly crashed it into the side of the garage. He dug the bike out of a pile of rubble that used to resemble the north wall and discovered a gaping hole in the crankcase. Yee ha! A total restoration ensued. He attempted to replicate Captain America’s chopper in Easy Rider, but I coerced him into restoring the bike to it’s original state. The crankcase was beyond repair, so he replaced the engine with another from the local British junk yard.

Months passed. The paint dried. Kevin was released from prison for mutating the genes on his neighbor’s aardvark, and the motorcycle came to life. Kevin figured he could sell it, pay his fine, and put money down on that lifelong obsession of owning a Harley-Davidson Captain America replica. In stepped Johnny, the unsuspecting buyer…

Johnny loves old British bikes and agreed to pay Kevin his asking price. All was well until Johnny trotted (and I mean trotted! He really walks like a horse.) down to the DMV and attempted to register his recently purchased pride and joy. The DMV clerk asked to see the original title, and Johnny produced Kevin’s Bill of Sale…written in crayon.

The clerk snarled, “I am sorry sir. We need to have the original title. If you do not have the original, it is your responsibility to secure the original title to prove legitimate ownership of said vehicle.”

Johnny tried to explain to the clerk that the original owner had relocated to Tibet in search of the perfect aardvark and gave the bike to Kevin on a Bill of Sale. The clerk responded with a Dragnet-type citation of Johnny’s options: Force title the vehicle via bonding. There were no other options.

Johnny found that the first step in force titling a vehicle was to provide the DMV with photographs of the bike from all angles: front, back, both sides and aerial. These photos were submitted to a committee of government employees who specialized in placing dollar figures on classic vehicles. These well trained individuals were capable of appraising almost any vehicle to within pennies of the fair market value.

A statement arrived several weeks later proclaiming $3,075.00 to be the declared value. Armed with this information, Johnny contacted his friendly insurance agent in search of a reputable bonding company. Several phone calls later, a bonding agent offered to bond the vehicle for Johnny if he qualified for the bonding amount of $4,612.50. Johnny politely corrected the agent, telling him he only needed to be bonded for the declared value.

“Not so,” explained the agent. “You need to be bonded for 1.5 times the declared value. This protects the state from any legal sanctions in the future. For example, if the owner were to return from Tibet with no memory of selling the vehicle and sue the state for titling the vehicle to you, the state would have to search the database for the VIN number. If they produced a title still in his name, they would lose and have to pay him $3,075 plus registration fees. Then the state would knock on our door demanding the bonded amount, which would include unforeseen litigation fees. We would write the check, then we would hunt you down and demand reimbursement of the bonded amount.”

Beads of perspiration began to form on Johnny’s head, “So, I have to pay you three percent on the bonded amount AND the full bond if you have to pay it out?”

Smiling that bonding-is-my-business-and-business-is-good smile, the agent replied, “Yes.”

Knowing a little about Tibetan laws on the genetic engineering of aardvarks, Johnny felt safe in assuming that Tommy would be out of the country for several years. Besides, if Tommy did return, Kevin would surely flip Johnny the heads up, so he could sell the bike and eliminate the risk. Sensing the thought behind Johnny’s smile, the bonding agent dashed any glimmer of hope. “Should you decide to sell the vehicle, you realize that the new owner would also have to be approved for a bond to transfer the title.”

Johnny left the office feeling dazed and confused and decided to surf the net for any other viable options. He posted his predicament to several mailing lists and discussion groups and received a deluge of responses. Several advised him to title the bike in Vermont or Delaware first, as they have very few if any laws regarding registration of older bikes. Once he had the title in hand, he could then transfer the title to his county of origin.

So, Johnny started dialing. He called the DMV in Delaware ready to hand over five dollars to gain a title (per the e-mail) and was met with a shocking response. “Young man, there are several things we just don’t do here in Delaware. We don’t spit into the wind, we don’t tug on Superman’s cape, and we sure don’t title vehicles that do not have titles. Ever.”

Johnny started to plead, “But I thought, you see, what if someone buys a vehicle on a Bill of Sale?.”

“Then that person just paid a tax for being stupid. We call that the stupid tax, because everyone in Delaware knows you just don’t buy a vehicle without a title. I suppose you play the lottery, too.”

Johnny hung up and dialed the DMV in Vermont. The agent on the other end asked, “What is your problem?”

“l don’t have a title for my motorcycle.” Johnny pouted.

“What year is the motorcycle?”


“Well, of course you don’t have a title. We didn’t start issuing titles for bikes till 1983. Send me the $22.50 for the registration fee and 6% of what you paid for the bike, and I will send you a plate. You don’t need a title.”

Not quite sure how this would solve his dilemma, Johnny decided not to lie and proceeded with the legitimate Minnesota titling procedure. Standing before the DMV clerk with his declared value, titling applications, proof of bonding and some Rolaids, he was finally ready to acquire his title.

“We can’t title this vehicle,” said the clerk.

“But why?” Johnny stammered.

“The vehicle has different engine and frame numbers. If the motor was replaced, you need to go back to the person who did the work and collect all of their receipts.”

The next morning I read in the paper about a vehicle fire on the same block as Johnny’s house. I wonder …


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